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Study Says Stress Feeds Cancer Growth

Pat Guth contributes news and insightful content for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Patricia Guth

January 30, 2013

Winston-Salem, North Carolina - A study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina indicates that a cancer patient who can’t control his or her stress may indeed be helping their cancer grow and may be reducing the effectiveness of the drugs they’ve been given to combat his disease.

An article in Forbes Magazine cites new research that makes a definitive connection between cancer and stress. While the research can’t yet make the claim that stress causes cancer, it does clearly prove that an overly stressed person seems to have less chance of recovering from their disease.

For this most recent study, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center centered their attention on the effects of stress on prostate cancer, but believe their findings can most likely be applied to other types of cancer as well. Specifically, the team, headed by George Kulik, D.V.M., Ph.D., associate professor of cancer biology, tested the effects of behavioral stress in two different mouse models of prostate cancer.

The first model involved injecting mice with human prostate cancer cells. The animals were then treated with a drug currently in clinical trials for use in treating prostate cancer. When the mice were kept calm, the drug appeared to work well, killing cancer cells and stopping tumor growth. However, when the mice were stressed, no progress was seen as far as cell death, and tumors continued to grow.

The second set of mice was genetically modified to develop prostate cancer. When the mice were stressed, their prostate tumors grew. When treated with bicalutimade, a current chemotherapy drug for this type of cancer, tumors did indeed shrink. However, the tumors of the mice that were consistently exposed to stress did not respond as well.

The data collected allowed the researchers to identify the cell signaling pathway by which adrenaline sets off the cellular chain reaction that controls cell death.

“Considering that prostate cancer diagnosis increases stress and anxiety levels, stress-induced activation of the signaling pathway that turns off the cell death process may lead to a vicious cycle of stress and cancer progression,” Kulik confirmed.

In both models, a beta-blocker – which inhibits the production of adrenaline – was administered and results showed that this slowed the acceleration of tumor growth. From that information, researchers concluded that a beta-blocker may improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapies in all types of cancers, including perhaps those that progress rapidly, such as mesothelioma.

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